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Comte de Gabalis [1913], at

p. xii


Before the Abbé de Villars met the Comte, he had been prepared for a work which has insured him the gratitude and reverence of those seekers for truth who have followed in his footsteps. May we, to-day, be as humble servants of that great ideal to which he dedicated himself, and which he set forth in a life of action and noble endurance. N. de Montfaucon de Villars was born in the diocese of Alet, near Toulouse, in the year 1635. He was a member of the very ancient family of the Canillac-Villars, being a grandson of Jean François de Montfaucon de Roquetaillade Canillac-Villars, and a nephew of the celebrated and learned Benedictine father, Bernard de Montfaucon of Saint Maur.

Having taken orders, he came to Paris in the year 1667 with the intention of advancing himself through preaching, and fired with that enthusiasm which the country brings to the city, hoped for a brilliant career. The Abbé's wit, eloquence, and quiet demeanour charmed all with whom he was brought into contact, and he soon gained many illustrious friends, entré into the most exclusive circles, won the esteem of Madame de Sévigné, and became the centre of a coterie of beaux esprits who were in the habit of meeting at the Porte Richelieu. He awakened a desire for truth in the jaded though brilliant minds of that effete period, and

p. xiii

sought to turn them from their chief consideration, the degradation of the times, by pointing out the possibility of regeneration, doing much to elevate the thoughts of all who came under the sway of his gentle and persuasive influence.

The Abbé de Villars was an earnest worker for the cause of liberty and religious tolerance, and the author of several books and pamphlets, some of which remain to be discovered. One of these, on the origin of species, inspired Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, whose writings stimulated Darwin in his quest, and who was the real father of the modern doctrine of biological evolution. Few of the works to-day attributed to the Abbé were written by him. They are forgeries contrived, as are the sequels and interpolations in the later editions of Comte de Gabalis itself, by those who feared and sought to nullify the profound influence which this book exercised over the minds and imaginations of its readers. For there were those who regarded the truth which it embodies as unorthodox and harmful to the temporal authority of the church.

To a politico-religious source may therefore be ascribed the ingenious fiction that Comte de Gabalis is a direct translation of an Italian book La Chiave del Gabinetto, by Gioseppe Borri, published in 1681, eleven years after the appearance of the first edition of these Discourses. Thoughtful comparison

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of La Chiave del Gabinetto, with the contemporary French and English editions of Comte de Gabalis reveals the fact that the Italian book is but a faulty translation and expansion of the former, masquerading under the guise of letters dated from Copenhagen in 1666, which imaginary date was employed to lend colour to its pretension to priority, and to cast discredit upon the Abbé's book.

The pleasure loving spirit of this brilliant preacher was latterly beclouded by the loss of his friends, consequent upon the persecutions of the church which forbade him the pulpit and forced him to withdraw his publications. The Abbé de Villars is supposed to have been assassinated while on a journey to Lyons in the year 1673. Like many of his Craft, however, his true place of burial is unknown. "Perhaps he only pretended to die, as is the way of Philosophers who feign death in one place only to transplant themselves to another." May the soul of this great disciple of a great Master be now in the presence of God.

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